A harsher, but more mean­ing­ful life

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

“When you are told all your life you’re dumb, un­wor­thy, you start be­liev­ing it. God changed that for me.”

Jerry, from Youngstown, Ten­nessee, hes­i­tated to be in­ter­viewed by Chris Ar­nade, be­cause “I don’t know my

ABCS, so I can’t re­ally talk right.” He told Ar­nade, the au­thor of the new book “Dignity: See­ing Re­spect in Back Row Amer­ica”: “I got noth­ing of worth to say, not any­thing any­body would want to read about.” Ar­nade talks him into it, sug­gest­ing his views might be of worth to oth­ers.

Jerry was raised “dirt poor” in a mil­i­tary fam­ily, “the son of par­ents who mar­ried and di­vorced three times. His fa­ther was abu­sive and didn’t pro­vide.” He tells Ar­nade that one month all the fam­ily ate was cake mix, be­cause those were the left­overs his fa­ther man­aged to bring home.

“I was al­ways called dumb by ev­ery­one, my teach­ers, other stu­dents. Pretty soon I dropped out of school ... I made it the only way I knew how, with my body. But you know what they say: the harder you work, the less you make.”

Ar­nade writes of Jerry: “He lives on a small plot of land in a val­ley far from most things, in a home held to­gether by at­tach­ments and ad­di­tions he built him­self. His wife is con­fined to a bed off the liv­ing room, dis­abled from years of ill­ness. He spends much of his time car­ing for her or driv­ing her from ap­point­ments .... ” Ar­nade de­scribes Jerry as “a big man” who “moves slowly, hob­bled from in­juries and pain from a life­time of man­ual la­bor. The worst pain is from a bro­ken neck when he fell from a ladder that ended most of the work he could do.” The injury meant he was pre­scribed pain pills “and then, when doc­tors cut his pre­scrip­tion, buy­ing heroin.”

Jerry is grate­ful for his re­li­gious faith. “I got saved at 50,” he tells Ar­nade. “I had never felt wor­thy be­fore of be­ing saved. I was too dumb. Now I un­der­stand I am wor­thy of the Lord.”

Ar­nade is a for­mer Wall Street trader who started walk­ing in a part of the

Bronx he had been warned against. He even­tu­ally would get in his car and travel to sim­i­lar places around the coun­try. One of the things he found there was a sus­tain­ing faith.

Af­ter at­tend­ing “hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent (re­li­gious) ser­vices” he “couldn’t ig­nore the value in faith.” At first, he saw it as a “util­ity,” but he soon re­al­ized “there was more to it than that. My bi­ases, my years steeped in ra­tio­nal­ity and priv­i­lege, (were) lim­it­ing a deeper un­der­stand­ing.” Per­haps, he writes, “re­li­gion was right, or at least as right as any­thing could be.” But, he ad­mits, “Get­ting there re­quires a level of in­tel­lec­tual hu­mil­ity that I am not sure I have” -- which to me sounds a lit­tle bit like hu­mil­ity.

As op­posed to his life of in­su­lated priv­i­lege, Ar­nade found a starker re­al­ity in the com­mu­ni­ties he writes about. “You can­not ig­nore death there, and you can­not ig­nore hu­man fal­li­bil­ity . ... It is far eas­ier to rec­og­nize that one must come to peace with the idea that we don’t and never will have this un­der con­trol.” He adds, “It is far eas­ier to see re­li­gion not just as use­ful but as true.”

There’s some­thing Ar­nade en­coun­tered on the streets that cap­tures our shared hu­man­ity. At a time of wall-build­ing, Ar­nade scales some barriers and finds hope in the midst of tremen­dous pain. He finds peo­ple try­ing their best, in some of the harsh­est cir­cum­stances.

All pro­ceeds from “Dignity” are go­ing to groups help­ing peo­ple with ad­dic­tion and home­less­ness, and to some of the hard­luck peo­ple por­trayed in its pages.

The world is bet­ter to­day be­cause of Chris Ar­nade’s work, and you can im­prove your world by read­ing it and look­ing into the eyes of the peo­ple who opened their hearts and lives to him. You may also find some of the faith, hope and love you need to­day.

•••

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She

can be con­tacted at [email protected]­tion­al­re­view.com.

KATHRYN LOPEZ

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